Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

How The Real-Time Web Turns 'Conversational Media' Into Noise

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 5, 2010

In the movie "Amadeus" Mozart says:

"In a play, if more than one person speaks at once ...it's just noise. No one can understand a word. But with opera, with music.... With music you can have individuals all talking at the same time. And it's not noise. lt's a perfect harmony!"

That's what struck me as a fundamental limitation of using online real-time feedback for live events.

In this brave new world of 'conversational' media - real-time creates a real limitation. And no amount of technology can solve this basic issue: you can't have a conversation if everyone is speaking at once.

You can have online conversations if they are within a time-line, such as comments on a blog post. But it doesn't work in real-time. Think of the noise of a crowd -- it's an aggregation of hundreds of conversations.

This might all seem a bit obvious but it's worth pointing out because there is a lot of chatter about the 'real-time' web these days and what it means, and what it can enable.

Thursday evening I was on an interesting panel about "Realtime Feedback Loops."

My fellow panelists were:

Jennifer Lindsay moderated.

Here are some notes:

- Jennifer Lindsay wanted to find out if there was some way that conference events could be done differently, using real-time feedback loops, so that people that weren't there could participate in the discussion.

- Sylvia Marino said that it didn't work out, to mix people attending an event virtually, and those in the room. She said that outsiders often didn't have the same understanding of the ideas and concepts that were being discussed by people physically present, and that they found it hard to engage in the conversations.

- Ravit Lichtenberg made some excellent points about the need for moderators to be able to filter real-time feedback. Often, facilitators will arise naturally within a community.

- Liza Sperling said that it is important to be aware of feedback in many different places. For example, the recent Toyota news about problems with Toyota cars appeared on forums, it wasn't on Twitter.

- Bill Johnston said that real-time feedback loops can be a distraction to what is happening in the room. There is value in the "fidelity of presence" that isn't found in virtual events.

- Van Riper told a story of a group of people who hadn't attended one of his events, becoming very hostile to messaging around the event.

- Shel Holtz, who was in the audience, made one of the best contributions. He said that you have to know what to do with the real-time feedback, what's its purpose? For example, there's little point to have real-time feedback during a keynote speech.

[BTW, the latest Hobson & Holtz Report discusses my recent post about trust in social (and other) media]

Justin.tv was there to record the event. Thanks to Rich Reader for organizing the panel.

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